With the taste of OUA gold lingering, men’s volleyball fell short of a podium finish at the U Sports National Championships last weekend.
Mirroring the Gaels’ recent hosting of the OUA Championship, the Laval Rouge et Or used their home court advantage last Friday to take Queen’s to five sets and win 3-2.
After losing their first match to the tournament hosts—and eventual bronze medalists—in front of 3,081 fans, Queen’s went on to win their next two against McMaster and Mount Royal, securing a fifth-place finish.
Head Coach Gabe DeGroot told The Journal in an interview that it was a “tough first match” against Laval, but his team did well going up against the undefeated Rouge et Or.
“Playing in front of [several thousand] is a little different than playing in the ARC when the crowds on our side,” he said, “but they did really well, [and] it was a lot of fun.”
This year improved on the Gaels’ seventh-place finish from last season, and was inches away from the program’s best ever fourth-place finish in 2011-12.
Despite losing their first match to Laval, there was some solace in knowing their opponents went on to win bronze. According to DeGroot, the player he anticipated to be a problem—fifth-year outside hitter Vicente Villlalbos—and first-year setter Ludovic Martin, who had a “wicked spin serve,” were more than his side could handle.
“We don’t necessarily see a lot of [those serves] in the league at that speed,” he said of Martin. “I think it kind of set us off.”
While the Gaels have plenty of experience with fifth sets—they went 7-2 in deciding sets this season—Laval simply got the better of them, winning 15-12 in the fifth.
In the consolation semi-final, the Gaels had a rematch of the OUA Championship against the McMaster Marauders.
Both of their earlier meetings this season went down to the wire in five sets. This time, however, they swept the Marauders 3-0. “It feels a little better every time, beating [McMaster],” DeGroot said.
Compared to their first meetings, DeGroot said his players figured their opponents out.
“The guys over and over again stuck to a game-plan and kept executing at a super high level,” he said. “The fact that we just kind of figured them out by the end of the year and they didn’t have anything to come back at us with—that was really cool.”
“We knew what they were doing, and I don’t think they made the adjustments to us all year long.”
After handily defeating McMaster, Queen’s secured a fifth-place finish after taking down the Mount Royal Cougars 3-0—a team that entered the tournament ranked fourth.
“Beating the number three Canada West team is huge for our program,” DeGroot said. “Regardless of that first loss, [we] stepped up to the occasion and did really well.”
When asked about season highlights, DeGroot had more than enough to choose from.
Laughing, he mentioned the team’s five-set quarter-final win game against over his alma mater, the Guelph Gryphons. “I don’t think I’ll ever forget that one,“ he said.
“We were pretty much done—the last three weeks wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for those wild saves at the end of the fifth set.”
But the biggest was his team’s OUA championship win.
“I don’t think any of our guys are ever going to forget that,” he said. “To have finished that and won that on home court was pretty special.”
Now, the Gaels will reflect and reset before summer training begins. So far, they’ve secured four top-notch recruits to add to their roster.
Though hopeful for what new talent can bring to his already formidable lineup, DeGroot knows success comes when teams take one season at a time.
“If we just kind of rely on what happened this year and don’t reset […] I think we can get ahead of ourselves,” he said. “But [we’re] obviously building on experience again, which will be a big piece.”
“We’re going to have to reset our goals and just get back to square one.”
Gabriel DeGroot, Men's Volleyball, U Sports National Championship
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